Jarryd Hayne’s decision to leave rugby league back in 2014 was a massive story, and his decision to retire from the NFL to link up with Fiji’s Olympic sevens squad this week was possibly just as big.
What’s been stunning has been the amount of doubt people have cast over why he left the NFL so quickly and whether he’ll succeed in sevens.
This is the same man who most critics believed two years ago didn’t stand a chance of ever playing in the NFL, yet he ended up playing eight games for the San Francisco 49ers within a year of taking up the sport.
There’s a much better chance of Hayne being a success in sevens than there ever was of him playing in the NFL.
It’s inappropriate for people to compare Quade Cooper’s recent failure in sevens as some sort of justification why Hayne won’t succeed. Cooper can only dream of Hayne’s speed, fend and tackling ability.
More Jarryd Hayne:
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» Why Hayne shouldn’t make the Fiji sevens side
» NFL to the Olympics, but where will the Hayne Plane land in 2017?
» Jarryd Hayne announces NFL retirement, aims for Olympic Games
In London, Hayne’s anaerobic endurance will be really tested, but another attribute he has proven over the years is his mental strength. It’s this strength that should get him through this weekend and buy him time to regain the fitness required.
The biggest challenge for Hayne will be whether his physical prowess can substitute for the lack of game awareness he’s going to have. However, one of Hayne’s strongest abilities back in rugby league was his spacial awareness when moving at speed, and he’ll be able to get comfortable on the sevens park much quicker than many people are giving him credit for.
If he can even be moderately successful at sevens (compared to his switch to the NFL), then he will add the x-factor to ensure Fiji go to Rio as hot favourites to win gold.
What linking up with Fiji reconfirms is that Hayne is more motivated by achievements than money. Whether he was shoulder-tapped at the 49ers or simply felt his chances of progressing further weren’t great, it shouldn’t detract from the fact that he has again embraced a tough challenge instead of crawling back into his comfort zone.
That is behaviour we should applaud.
One of the flow-on effects for Fiji could be financial. Hayne’s presence could help them get some of the much-needed sponsorship the team have struggled to attract, despite their success.
Hayne secured a lucrative sponsorship deal for himself with Under Armour in September last year, a company that also has athletes like Steph Currie and Jordan Speith on their books. The security Hayne gained from these personal deals may have given him the confidence to take on another fresh challenge like sevens, rather than a more lucrative deal with league or union.
Considering the worldwide exposure that the Olympics receives, it’s unlikely this latest move will jeopardise his deal with Under Armour in the short-term.
Providing he makes the final squad, the Olympics will also be a great stage for Hayne to advertise his skills for a future contract. There is no guarantee he will succeed at Rio, or even make it to the starting line, because he’s competing for a spot in a squad with great depth.
But, barring injury, it would be surprising not to see Hayne at Rio, and if he makes it he could be sensational.
One thing is for sure: we should never write off a champion, and Hayne has definitely proven he is a champion.